Social dialogue, collective bargaining stand out in BWI COVID-19 webinar

02 June 2020 09:55

Social dialogue, collective bargaining and tripartite agreements are some of the key union tactics that stood out on BWI’s latest “How are you?” COVID-19 webinar last 27 May participated by 40 trade unionists from 15 countries in Latin America and the Caribbean. 

Saúl Méndez, President of BWI Regional Committee for Latin America and the Caribbean and General Secretary of SUNTRACS-Panama, led the discussion on the main trade union actions developed in the region, guided by BWI’s regional report on “trade union responses to COVID-19.” The online event also saw the attendance of Sara Brombart of Friedrich Ebert Foundation (FES)-Peru, who attended the meeting as a special guest straight from Germany.

Trade union leaders from the Dominican Republic, Suriname, Curazao, Bermuda, Guatemala, Honduras, Panama, Costa Rica, Chile, Colombia, Peru, Uruguay, Argentina and Ecuador discussed 

COVID-19’s impact on the construction, building materials (brick, cement and ceramic) and wood industries. They put into perspective the importance of social dialogue and collective bargaining as key tools to ensure wages and jobs in times of global health crisis.

Among the main actions reported for the construction sector were: 1) tripartite agreements with Ministries of Labor and Chambers of Construction stood out to ensure wages (Panama, Argentina, Peru, Ecuador and Colombia), 2) solidarity economic contributions for union workers (Panama), 3) creation of safety protocols (Argentina) and 4) protection for informal workers (Peru). 

Trade unionists working on the cement industry reported negotiations with companies such as Argos, which ensured workers’ incomes when production branches closed during the pandemic (Honduras and Panama). In the wood industry, unionists reported negotiation of wage payments and employment protection in various companies such as Faber-Castell, Masisa, among others (Peru, Venezuela, Chile). Trade unions working in all industries extended humanitarian aid (Dominican Republic, Uruguay, Cuba, Argentina, Peru and Panama).

The participants also discussed the main challenges and difficulties faced by workers in the region, such as the anticipated economic and industry reactivation in Panama, Colombia, the Dominican Republic, Costa Rica and Peru, which they fear might run contrary to labour rights and the voice of unions. 

The alarming increase in the number of COVID-19 cases, the collapse of health systems in countries such as Panama and Ecuador, the regrettable death of trade union leaders and affiliates in Peru (10 reported at the meeting) and the Dominican Republic, and the trade-off between the lives and incomes of workers were also comprehensively discussed. Meanwhile, SUNCA-Uruguay underscored the importance of discussing the plight of people with disabilities (PcD in Spanish) and the fight for decent work amidst the pandemic. 

The unionists said that the next BWI webinar for the region will take place on June 2, with trade union leaders and affiliates from Brazil expecting to join.